Lines of attack
Here are 4 political attack narratives that are filling voters' feeds and defining the midterms online
With primary season officially over, and with only 45 days until Election Day, the battle lines of the general election have now been drawn. Particularly online, narratives used by the candidates and outside groups are starting to solidify, and we’ve seen several repeated ad nauseum. In this week’s newsletter, we’ll dig into the 4 lines of attack that we’ve seen define the midterms online - from Facebook to YouTube.
By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Facebook + Instagram last week:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has launched 15 new Facebook pages recently to run district-specific ad campaigns in key races. The group is using pages like “Alek is not for us” and “Madres contra Maryott” to reach voters with distinct brands either boosting battleground Democrats or attacking their opponents.
At the same time, the Republicans’ House campaign arm, the NRCC, has spent less than 1/5th of the DCCC’s spend on Facebook and Instagram and has not run similar campaigns.
Metric Media, a conservative pay-for-play network of over 1,200 “pink-slime” fake news sites, has spent over $125,000 in the past 90 days from 39 different Facebook pages boosting articles attacking Democrats and slamming the Inflation Reduction Act. Read more about it here >>
Meanwhile, here were the top political advertisers on Google platforms last week, including YouTube:
Three conservative “dark-money” groups - Senate Leadership Fund, One Nation, and Congressional Leadership Fund - continue to dominate Google and YouTube ad spending week over week. Their ads are focused on attacking Democratic candidates for U.S. House and Senate along familiar lines. We have more on their ads below.
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Snapchat so far this year:
The real Abbott Elementary
Our friends at Texas Public Heritage are back to spotlight how Gov. Greg Abbott is bad for public schools, teachers, and Texas students with a timely new ad inspired by the return of Emmy-award winning series, Abbott Elementary. 📺 Watch, share, RT:
From around the internet
TikTok announced further restrictions on political accounts this week, requiring candidates to be verified on the app and banning all forms of political fundraising videos.
Content that is shared organically on social media platforms like Facebook can have a much larger impact than paid advertising. Which midterm candidates are receiving the most reactions, comments, and shares on their campaign’s Facebook posts? Here’s your answer >>
This week, Meta policy chief Nick Clegg discussed his looming decision to reinstate Donald Trump on Facebook and doubled down on the company’s policy of allowing politicians to lie on their platform. Read about it here.
According to POLITICO, several major Democratic U.S. Senate candidates had their best online fundraising month ever in August, and here are a few key takeaways from last month’s campaign finance reports.
Lines of attack
With primary season now officially over, and with only 45 days until Election Day, the battle lines of the general election have now been drawn. Particularly online, narratives used by the candidates and outside groups are starting to solidify, and we’ve seen several repeated ad nauseum.
In Facebook ads, Instagram posts, TikToks, and YouTube videos, campaigns on the Right and Left are trying to persuade middle-of-the-road voters and tear down their opponents. FWIW, here are the 4 major lines of attack that we’re seeing in the final stretch to Election Day:
Inflation and high gas prices are caused by Democrats’ reckless policies 💳
Republicans have been beating this drum since the late spring, and although some signs point to inflation cooling off, GOP candidates and outside groups are deploying this line of attack more than just about anything else.
Particularly in U.S. House and Senate races, attacks against Democrats on inflation have been ubiquitous. Conservative PACs and dark money groups like One Nation, Congressional Leadership Fund, Wisconsin Truth PAC, Americans for Prosperity, Sentinel Action Fund, and others have run dozens of ads pushing this narrative. Of course, none of these ads mention other causes of global inflation - including Russia’s destabilizing war in Ukraine or the pandemic that continues to kill hundreds of Americans a day.
Republicans will ban abortion everywhere - no exceptions 🏛
The Supreme Court’s decision to take away women's right to make their own healthcare decisions has obviously become one of the biggest, if not biggest, issues defining this election. In almost every single statewide race, from North Carolina to Nevada, Democrats are branding Republicans as just too extreme.
A recent analysis found that Democrats are running 14 times as many ads on abortion as Republicans, and that tracks with what we’ve seen on Facebook and Youtube. Here’s one striking YouTube ad attacking MI GOP candidate for governor Tudor Dixon, from Put Michigan First, a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association:
Democrats want to set violent criminals free and defund the police 🚔
We saw this same line of attack in 2020, when protests were sweeping the nation and Republicans were eager to be seen as supporting “law and order.” This cycle, especially in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republicans and their allies have spent enormous amounts of money trying to tie statewide candidates like Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman to defunding the police and emptying prisons of violent criminals.
These Republican candidates are not like the rest of us 🙃
When Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said his party had a problem with “candidate quality,” this is what he meant. Democrats from Pennsylvania to Arizona are attacking their opponents as corrupt, out of touch, extreme, weird, and just not right. It’s a strategy John Fetterman’s team has used all year to brand Dr. Oz as a rich, kind of strange, out-of-touch New Jerseyite.
In Arizona, Democrats recently ran an ad calling GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters “That Dad at the soccer game who’s just…off.” We also noted recently that they highlighted the candidate's weird shirtless pics from a bodybuilding website.
…and in Georgia, Herschel Walker is giving his opponents plenty of similar fodder, pretending to have been an FBI agent, lying about having secret children, and struggling to assemble coherent sentences.
What’s effective and what’s not
We’ve seen *dozens* of message tests, polls, and experiments this cycle outlining how the attacks above and others can be effective at moving the needle among persuadable swing voters. We’ve also seen other, more traditional lines of attack from candidates on both sides - Democrats want to raise taxes, Republicans want to cut Medicare and social security - but candidates up and down the ballot all over the country are flooding the voters’ airwaves and social media feeds with these four narratives in particular.